M/s vs. D/s

D/s is a power dynamic where one partner (the Dominant) consensually maintains some level of power in certain areas over the other (the submissive).

M/s is a power dynamic where one partner (the Master/Mistress) consensually maintains a very high level of power in many or all areas over the other (the slave). It has a higher connotation with 24/7.

Neither of these relationship dynamics inherently connects to romance, sex, or kinky play.

A commonly heard idea in discussions about D/s vs. M/s comes down to when the choice to obey is made. Obedience in M/s is often seen as a one-time decision; the slave decides to obey when they become the slave of their M-type, and that decision is never really made again, because it’s already been decided. Obedience in D/s is often seen as more of an active decision each time the submissive follows their Dominant’s will, with each act of obedience seen as accompanied by a bit more of a thought process. Relatedly—internal enslavement is something I see referred to almost exclusively in M/s language.

D/s tends towards more negotiating than M/s, so a submissive might think about the implications of following an order more than a slave. If they do it now, does that set the expectation that they’re always okay with it, or that they’re okay with an escalation path going forth from it? A slave who gives up more control might not think of those things because they might not matter as much.

In those negotiations, it is more often seen in M/s that the slave does not have safewords, hard or soft limits, or the full ability to leave the relationship. It is rarer in D/s for the submissive to not have those things.

D/s is kind of a “headspace enforced” situation. If the submissive is not feeling like obeying at that moment, I see a lot of “then the headspace needs to be fixed” (often by the Dominant). M/s is more of a “headspace expected” situation, where the slave obeys whether they want to or not, and if they don’t want to in that moment, it’s not viewed as a problem; there’s just the expectation that they still want to obey overall, and their headspace will reflect that better later, in a likely fairly natural way.

Often, in fact, I think that these expectations are good for the desired headspaces in themselves, and the expectations for a submissive might be actively detrimental for a slave, and vice versa. A slave would feel discouraged if their M-type wanted to fix their headspace every time they internally didn’t want to do something; a submissive would feel discouraged if they didn’t get help with their headspace at the same moments. Same for how they feel they should address it within themselves.

The positives of being a submissive are often described as “the joy of the feeling of surrender”. It is associated with something you actively feel. The positives of being a slave are often described as “the joy of serving and pleasing another”. It is associated more with how you make your M-type feel.

With this difference in mindset, D/s often has the submissive’s headspace kept in mind when coming up with specific ways for the submissive to submit, with the submissive’s wanting to do those things being important. M/s more often has the Master/Mistress’ wants being kept in mind when coming up with specific ways for the slave to submit, and their desire to submit overall being the important factor.

I am frequently asked about my thoughts on this subject, and I wanted to create one reference on it; so, here it is.

Sadism vs. CNC

I had an interesting conversation with Mistress on this Valentine’s Day.

“I think I might be a sadist,” she said.

“Why?”

“Well, a few hours ago—“ before the nap I’d needed after “—we had sex, and you were in pain, and I liked that you were in pain.”

Okay. Well, yes, that sounded like sadism—but also wasn’t news. She’d used a neon wand to the point of pain on me just the night before, combined with a chest harness of conductive rope, while our friends watched. We’d done impact scenes that lasted hours and consisted of mostly single tails. So why did enjoying having sex that exacerbated some pre-existing pain trigger this revelation?

Her initial explanation came down to “because you were in pain and didn’t want to be in pain”.

I thought out loud about definitions of sadism I’d seen. In the kink scene, “sadist” and “pain play Top” often get kind of combined and messy. A more classic definition of sadism would say that it was enjoying the pain of others. The difference I spotted was basically enjoying inflicting pain for one reason or another, or enjoying others being in pain for the sake of pain.

I asked, “What do you get out of pain play scenes?”

Well, mostly she enjoyed it because she knew I liked it. And she got to guide me through a journey of sensation. And, sometimes, show off—in the case of a public scene.

None of those really had to do with the pain itself. Of course, pain was involved, she said, but it was something I generally wanted as a part of a scene, pain for the sake of pain.

So that’s what made the sex today different. I was in pain I didn’t want. And she enjoyed it—without my enjoyment, without getting to lead a sensation journey, and without any showing off. If her definition of sadism was just about the pain itself, she could’ve had this revelation from an impact scene. But she hadn’t. Because it wasn’t about the pain.

It was about the fact that I didn’t want the pain; that was the differentiating factor.

We’d had sex, which exacerbated pain I didn’t want to be in, making it hard for me to enjoy it. And she found she especially enjoyed the experience specifically because I was experiencing pain I truly didn’t like.

Having thought through some things out loud, I came to the conclusion: “Maybe it’s not sadism, maybe it’s CNC.”

Because if sadism is about pain, if plenty of people identify as sadists when they are enjoying the pain of someone else when that someone else also enjoys it on some level, then her identification as a sadist wouldn’t depend on me not enjoying it; it also wouldn’t be about just being a pain play Top or not, because she was already definitely that.

It wasn’t about my pain; it was about my consent, and I’m not allowed to say no.

I pointed out that there were other times we’d had sex when I hadn’t wanted to, for reasons that weren’t really pain, per se—I was engaged in something else, I was short on time, I was tired, etc. She’d also very much enjoyed those—but hadn’t used sadism as a word to describe it because pain wasn’t involved. But the issue here wasn’t really pain either, though pain can be hard to define.

I do things as a slave on a daily basis that I really don’t want to do, but I do imagine it’s harder to pin down how you feel about that outside of a scene from the other side of the slash. Watching me do dishes and maybe looking a little agitated is different than being actively engaged in something that’s clearly making me feel pain. It feels a little more the same from my side, sometimes pain is pain whether it’s from scrubbing or not.

I also pointed out that when providing a real answer to, say, a stranger at a munch about what she does in kink, Mistress usually engages more about having a slave than about whips or rope or fire play.

I think in the end I’m still thinking that this is about consent and not pain, an idea I’ve seen Mistress discover parts of over time, as I have. It’s an interesting concept.

On 24/7

24/7. It means the power dynamic never turns off. Even if we wanted it to, I don’t think it possibly could, for us.

So if she’s the Mistress and I’m the slave, 24/7, what is it that I do in that time?

No, I don’t actively do “slave-y things” all the time. I have to sleep, after all, and even if I’m leashed to the bondage bed—I’m still asleep and not actively doing a whole lot.

So what does 24/7 mean then, as far as external factors, and not just how we process our relationship internally?

Well, a big part of it is availability. If I’m sleeping, she’s still able to wake me up and tell me to do something. Frequently she chooses to not do that. But that’s her choice, not mine. There are other situations where I might seem unavailable where she more frequently chooses to interrupt. It’s like an on-call situation. It means when she yells, “Slave!” I answer instantly, not at my convenience.

It means our rules are in effect 24/7, as are some of our protocols (the rest are in effect whenever we’re not in vanilla company, which is most of the time). If vanillas aren’t around, I ask her permission to use the furniture or be in a not-kneeling position on the floor just the same at 3AM as at 3PM. It means that her will affects what I do during any hour of the day.

It means other guidelines are in effect 24/7. Uniform code is uniform code no matter the time, and it was laid out with that in mind.

It means that in some ways, there aren’t really days off. She often allows things to lighten my workload when I don’t feel well, but that is at her discretion. Tired, sick, moody, chronic issue flare-up—doesn’t turn off the dynamic, doesn’t turn off rules or protocols or guidelines. And if she still wants a chore done or sex had, I still have to do as she says.

I do spend a lot of time actively providing service. Cooking. Cleaning. Organizing. Hosting. Cats to care for, coffee to make. Then there are tasks she expects that might not fall under service, but still take time. Daily slave journal entries, weekly events, and more. That active time probably adds up to about a forty hour a week job in itself. Keeping track of it all is a task unto itself.

While a lot of expectations are laid out in our contract, there are also things that happen too incidentally to put in there, and there’s keeping track of things in the moment, the schedule things repeat on, the times and dates.

So basically I view 24/7 (as opposed to a part-time dynamic) as partially about availability and the time range on rules, protocols, and guidelines, and I view it as a likely bigger time investment in general.

Control/Service-Oriented and Anticipatory/Reactive Service

While service-oriented and control-oriented are two distinct ways of approaching submission, anticipatory and reactive service are two distinct approaches to service that can be a part of either orientation—here I discuss the meanings and correlations as I see them, with ideas from how I commonly see the phrases discussed.

Service-oriented I see as a focus on and fulfillment from “what” you do in a way (the service itself), whereas control-oriented is a focus on and fulfillment from “how” (such as being ordered to do that service). Service I will simply define here as the practically-executed completion of real, non-sexual tasks done to make someone’s life easier.

Control-oriented people I see as generally more likely to have a focus on things like rewards and punishments, whereas I see service-oriented people as generally more likely to find the service itself rewarding and use punishment, if they do, as a method of communication more than control.

Anticipatory service I see as service that is done without a direct order. Refilling the coffee cup before being told to, for example.

Reactive service I see as service that is done following a direct order, like refilling the coffee cup after being told to.

There are some things that kind of ride the line between anticipatory and reactive, such as following standing orders or a repeating list of tasks. If you make a pot of coffee every day without prompting, but you were told “make a pot of coffee every day” a year ago—is that anticipatory or reactive? What if a year ago you were told to always refill the coffee cup before it’s down to a third of the way full, and now do it without any prompting? The answer is probably somewhere between “it depends” and “both, and neither”.

Realistically, a lot of dynamics aren’t a hundred-percent service or a hundred-percent control, nor is the service within them (assuming there is a service component) a hundred-percent reactive or a hundred-percent anticipatory. Hence I define things as what the focus is on.

So how do these ideas correlate?

Many think—and I agree—that control-oriented and reactive service match up fairly naturally, as do service-oriented and anticipatory service. Anticipatory service leaves room to focus on the tasks themselves, the wonderful mix of art and science of serving. Reactive service gives a sense of control with the tasks; you get more direct interaction and can focus on why you’re doing the tasks as they come up, the beautiful sense of surrendering control to another.

Now, I also believe it can easily go the other way for the service-oriented. Service-oriented people can get their joy out of making someone’s life easier, and they can easily track results and patterns and smiles in a reactive service setting; they know they are being helpful if they are acting on specific instructions. Control-oriented people looking to do more anticipatory service might take interest in the style I mentioned above that kind of rides the anticipatory/reactive line; having standing expectations is a good type of control for some.

Why are these things important? Other than just interesting, they’re useful in conversation, both to discuss some general ideas and when people are looking for compatibility. Being aware of these concepts can help fuel discussions and provide a deeper understanding of what is wanted, and what is compatible with those wants.

So, where do I fall on this spectrum? Personally I’m pretty far down the anticipatory service side. We do use the repeating task lists style in addition to more straightforward anticipatory service. We’re both pretty control and service oriented in some ways; though service is perhaps more at the core of our relationship, we still have a level of protocol that surprises some people. This side of things is what I find fulfilling, but I enjoy talking about all of it because they’re interesting concepts.